The goals of going digital are novel but much will depend on the quality and speed of internet connectivity and the excellence of trainers
The Union Budget 2022 has amply indicated that for converting India into a knowledge society some drastic changes and steps are required earnestly so that the mandate of National Education Policy - 2022 can be achieved in its word and spirit. Since the NEP which is a very ambitious policy is likely to be initiated from 2022-23 session therefore, all higher education institutions are gearing up for this through various steps. The initiatives highlighted in the union budget 2022 are aimed basically to bridge the existing gaps between the rural and urban sector's educational systems as well as to promote inclusive universalization of education across all segments of society so that the goal of access and equity of NEP could be accomplished.
It is well known that the education sector bore a very big and adverse burnt of Covid-19 pandemic from primary to higher educational levels due to the closure of schools and institutions of higher learning and teaching from March 2020 to till present depending on the ferocity of the waves of pandemic. However, despite the severity of the pandemic the children especially in the urban areas could make up for some of the educational loss through their access and relatively good connectivity to digital technology. But the children of rural areas principally, belonging to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other weaker sections of societies suffered most due to the loss of two precious years of their schooling and opportunities of socialization on account of their poor access to digital technology or smart phones and poor internet connectivity. Therefore, some steps have been announced in the union budget 2022 to bring such left out students into the mainstream of education. The proposed enhancement of educative TV channels from 12 to 200 covering all Indian languages through One Class One TV channel programme of PM E Vidya scheme in the union budget 2022 is aimed to fill up this gap between teaching and learning created by Covid-19 pandemic. This is also aimed to build up a resilient and easily approachable mechanism for imparting education to all from class 1 to 12 through their mother tongue or their own language and achieve the objective of belongingness through teaching and learning in mother tongue.
To fulfil the goal of promoting critical thinking skills, productivity, creativity and digital footsteps in education, the provision of 750 virtual labs for science subjects and mathematics and 75 skill labs is also an appreciable step. This is quite important in an era of pandemic wherein we have many examples of such mathematical modelling which helped the administrators and policy makers or vaccinators to assess the onset, spread and peak of the variants of corona virus and get prepared for such eventuality. This can be easily justified as a large number of vaccinated populations in India helped not only to limit the effect of the third wave of the pandemic by reducing the number of hospitalization or very serious ailments but also to enhance the vaccine coverage and preparedness in a fast speed as per the findings of the mathematical models. Although it is true that the virtual labs will not compensate the experience of working in actual or physical laboratories and experimenting with real laboratory equipment but at least it will provide a much-needed exposure to them towards the nature, space, equipment and their use in the laboratory through digital teachers and thus help the students to not to lose interest in the science subjects. The digital teacher's role is likely to become very important and will increase tremendously in this system as the e content which will be developed in all languages will be delivered through all digital modes and means by such teachers.
The initiation of digital university will further increase the reach and access of the students towards the world class e contents with a click of mouse. The heightened use of digital system and technology for skill enhancement as well as for livelihood generation is aimed for empowering the citizens by making them economically independent. These schemes also indicate ambitions of the government towards building empowered citizens and students through imparting various skills, reskilling of their acquired skills or upskilling as per their orientation and aptitude through digital modes and methods. Since education is always considered an agent of transformation and emancipation of the societies and its inhabitants, therefore, such interventions are desirable in a knowledge society which is progressing to become highly global in a fast paced socio-political, cultural, educational and economic milieu.
The initiation of courses in certain science subjects and opening of their campuses by foreign universities is also targeted towards the goal of making global citizens in a competitive education system. Promotion of startups for developing Drone Shakti in select IITs is also very ambitious as drones are being seen as a best tool and technique to save money, improve safety, and enhance the efficiency of various operations. The use of Drones has now become very common in sectors like agriculture, farming, land scape planning, topography, photography, manufacturing, ariel surveillance, natural disasters, emergency response and rescue, shipping and delivery, weather forecast, wildlife monitoring, remote sensing, exploring sites or under water for energy possibilities, defence sector or border management etc. Such start-ups with so many possibilities for future with skilled human power will bring changes in the working and mind set of all stakeholders and lead towards a new India armed with knowledge, required skills, technological know-how and forward-looking approach. The stress on opening more agriculture universities, upgrading the present universities and education according to the changing character of agriculture, promoting organic farming are also some of the initiatives indicated in the budget which are directly related to employment and livelihood generation for modern India through its own strengths.
It also indicates that to make a new India effort in all directions particularly education is required to generate a pool of people equipped with appropriate skills to tread in a challenging world, but the success of these efforts will depend in its effective implementation. The goals of going digital are novel but much will depend on the quality and speed of internet connectivity, excellence of trainers, their skills, mindset and will power to take the challenge of making a new India with grit and courage. The digital platform is ideal for a pandemic situation to make up for loss in education and therefore, it should be fully strengthened but kept in standby mode so that in any situation the education can be switched over from in-person to digital mode. This is important to retain the natural connect between the student and teacher.
(The writer is Vice-Chancellor, HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar, Garhwal, Uttarakhand. The views expressed are personal.)